Wednesday, March 25, 2009

American Idol, March 25, 2009: The Obama Delayed My Gratification Edition

They open the show tonight with a conversation about Alexis Grace. Because they want me to be sad.


Two hours of people who really really really really want to be famous singers when they grow up singing some of the more challenging pop music in American history is always fun. It’s always fun to see if the singers can pull off Motown music without sounding gimmicky or too karaoke in flavor. And then there’s the simple fact that not all of them will be up to the vocal task of the songs that they choose.

Not everyone can deliver a Marvin Gaye song the way that he could--not just with singing, but the power and the charisma of the original music. Few Idol singers have that kind of talent (or, to be brutal, even the potential to reach those heights). Which isn’t to say that I’m cheering against them; I always hope that these kids step up and amaze us.

I’m just rarely surprised when they don’t manage the feat.

Matt Giraud decided, for instance, to make “Let’s Get it On” into a crappy, elevator tune sung in Karaoke fashion. Smokey Robinson seems to think otherwise, but I thought it was horrible. Painfully contrived with none of the raw emotion of the original--just some guy going through the motions without making it feel real. Predictably, Randy, Kara, and Paula loved it. Simon believed it was a good performance and a great song choice (true) and names Matt “one of the frontrunners.” I say go listen to the original (link opens in iTunes Music Store) and realize just how small Matt’s version sounds.

I’m crying on the inside.

Pretty pretty aside: I’m fond of good photography. And redheads.

How about “How Sweet it Is?” (again, iTMS warning) by Kris Allen is a strange beast. It definitely takes on his personality, so it avoids the bad karaoke curse, but it’s oddly like any of a number of contemporary singers doing a remake of the old classic. Not my style by any stretch of the imagination, but it sounds commercially viable and works better for me than Matt G’s song.

Kara loves him, Paula loves him, Simon isn’t quite as effusive as he was with Matt (but is overall positive), and Randy called it “all good.”

I wouldn’t buy it, but it struck me as a more honest artistic stab than the fakery of “Let’s Get it On.”

Some would call it a petty petty aside: Madoff is leading the way. Right over the cliff.

I continue to not be a fan of Scott Macintyre and his brand of exceptionally wussified musical expression. I believe that Robinson said that Macintyre brought a little stride into his piano work tonight--I’d say that’s a little overstatement. Fats Waller would not be impressed. (iTMS) Perhaps I misheard…

He’s a ridiculously nice guy and I truly hope he has a wonderful life, but every time I hear him perform I get the impression that, nationally, we’re doing the equivalent of putting the kindergartner’s latest finger painting on the refrigerator door. “Can’t Hurry Love” was spectacularly bad tonight.

Paula loved it, Simon thought it was quite bad, Randy is in Simon’s corner, and Kara carefully stakes out middle ground.

Adventures in bad decision-making aside: Don’t trust the Sat Nav. A lesson I learned in a much less painful manner when I drove out to Arkansas over the holidays. But that’s a story for another beer…

Strangely, tonight the American Idol crew seem to be exploring things that are up Paula’s skirt. Which is wrong. Really wrong.

I’m a Megan fan, but that was rough. She’s one of the most original (which I’m typing and then Smokey is saying) singers this year and that’s not even discussing her, ahem, personal charms. Thing is, when she sings “Once in My Life,” I get flashbacks to bad lounge singers on The Love Boat. At moments, she sounds quite good, but the overall effect isn’t something I want to experience again.

None of which changes the fact that I cannot take my eyes off of her.

Randy opens with “that song was a train wreck for me.” Kara agrees and suggests “My Guy,” which, she’s right, that would have been a better choice. Paula agrees. Simon wants to fire whoever is advising her on her songs and leaves her wanting to cry. Even though she tries to make it bravely through the pain.

Sad for me, if she goes home there is no eye-candy left for me this year.

How about Anoop doing “Ooo Baby Baby” (iTMS) is quite nice. His voice suits the song and he captures the sweet nature of the song. It might be a little slow to be a crowd pleaser, but I think he did a really nice job. First one of the night that I’ve really enjoyed, in fact. Not a lot of originality, but a lovely visit to an old favorite.

Kara talks about how difficult the song is to sing and gives him credit for doing a “pretty good job.” Fair. Paula wants him to know that he’s doing a really good job. Simon likes the singing but things the performance was a bit boring. Randy agrees and gives some advice for next week.

Yeah, Anoop will be sticking around for another week and is definitely earning his spot on the show.

None of which changes the fact that Michael Sarver isn’t good enough to pull off “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (iTMS)--a song that needs a bigger, better voice. We descended back to High School talent contest levels with this one. Which is a shame since it’s such an awesome song.

Paula casts the first stone and likens him to Fat Elvis. Okay, not in so many words, but that’s what I got out of it. Simon “couldn’t wait for it to end” and says that he has no chance to win. Which I agree with, but which Michael isn’t going to take well. Randy tees off, too, and says it was “too big” and “a little bit corny.” Kara--well, I stopped caring when she started talking about artistry and didn’t address the fact that he was just horrible this week.

Sarver handles the critique with grace, but I do think that he’ll be going home this week. Unless it’s Megan instead.

We now move to Lil Rounds tackling “Heat Wave.” And, honestly, her voice isn’t quite up to the task, either. Not in the big bits where she does fine, but in the opening her voice is week and all over the place. She goes for old fashioned--style, hairstyle, clothing--and just doesn’t manage the trick when it comes to the vocals.

She won’t go home, though, because she’s far from the worst of the night. Randy wasn’t highly impressed (and gets booed during his critique). Kara wasn’t much impressed. Paula reverts to classic Paula-level stupidity. Simon calls her one of the best singers in the competition, but didn’t like the song or the performance.

I wonder how Adam Lambert will recover from last week’s abomination? My guess is that he’ll go minimalist to combat last week’s overindulgence. And I’m right: he dresses in Smokey chic, slicks back the hair, has an accoustic arrangement, and keeps the histrionics to a minimum. He can certainly get that falsetto going, can’t he? This was almost as good as last week was bad. He loses the tune here and there, but the effect is quite nice and he closes wonderfully.

He’s a smart guy and he learned a lesson from last week. Kara would kiss him if he weren’t so into boys. Paula would just like to talk him into submission. Or something. Simon calls it the best of the night--probably true--and praises the voice, the performance, and the songwriting, too. Randy loved it.

To this part of the competition, though, I’m really pulling for Danny Gokey and his surprisingly strong rasp of a voice. And it’s nice that he’s not wearing the scary white jacket this week.

He doesn’t disappoint. Allthough his performance is a little awkward, his voice is solid and his interpretation of the song is a lot of fun. Like Anoop, he doesn’t do a lot to personalize the arrangement, but his performance is a highlight for the night.

Paula loved it, Simon thought it “clumsy” and “amateurish”, Randy thought it was wonderful, and Darling Girl is talking so who knows what Kara said? Probably wasn’t that important anyway…

Cool books in the mail aside: I just received a review copy of a book that will be released in a few days. A Legacy of Liberation:Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream by Mark Gevisser looks to be an impressive view on Thabo Mbeki and recent South African history. I’m really looking forward to this one and I hope to have a review ready for all y’all soon.

“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is a brilliant little song and it suits Allison Iraheta’s voice and personality. Horrible outfit, though. Unfortunately, with the washer going through a rinse cycle in the background, I can hardly tell whether she’s doing well or not.  The audience seems to like it, though.

Randy gives love. Kara gives more love and stumps for the youngster complete with big “woo’s”. Paula has a drawn on mustache which seems to make her angry. Simon is too busy giggling to offer real insight. I can’t imagine that she’s in any danger, though.

Not a great night, although there were a few performances that were well worth the time.


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